Category Archives: Television

Say ‘U.N.C.L.E.’

Fresh young cast revives Cold War themes of ’60s TV show

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The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander

Directed by Guy Ritchie

PG-13

He wasn’t James Bond, but he was close.

Napoleon Solo was a suave, cosmopolitan American secret agent played by actor Robert Vaughn on the hit NBC TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. from 1964 to 1968. Solo was in fact fashioned by writer consultant Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, to be a small-screen version of his more famous British super-spy.

You don’t have to know that to enjoy this refreshingly retro-fied revival, which takes the name, characters and Cold War setting of the TV show and enhances them to modern-day Hollywood proportions.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Armie Hammer (left) and Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill (who’ll reprise his 2013 role of Superman in next year’s Batman v Superman) plays Solo, and Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger, The Social Network) is his Russian partner Illya Kuryakin. Rather than just picking up and running with TV characters established half a century ago, the movie wisely starts fresh and anew. (We don’t even hear the code word “U.N.C.L.E” and learn how it spun off from the CIA, the KGB and other international organizations as a separate super-spook division on its own, until the end of the movie.)

We learn backstories and see how Solo and Kuryakin first meet—not as teammates but as enemies, with cloak-and-dagger orders to eliminate each other if necessary, on opposing sides of the ’60s high-stakes political and military standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Their fateful collaboration makes for the fun in writer/director Guy Ritchie’s witty, snappy, stylish yarn spiced and sprinkled with Nazi fascists, Italian playboys, atom bombs, speedboats, femme fatales, fast cars, double crosses, triple crosses, some snazzy old-school spy do-daddery, and gorgeous, eye-popping fashions. It sometimes looks like the cast of Mad Men left their Madison Avenue ad agency and went into dangerous, daring Euro undercover work.

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Alicia Vikander

Alicia Vikander (who drew raves as a sexy robot earlier this year in Ex Machina) portrays the daughter of a brilliant German rocket scientist who’s been abducted and forced to apply his skills toward nefarious ends. She joins Solo and Kuryakin in a race—an “arms race,” to use the Cold War term—to find him.

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Elizabeth Debicki

Elizabeth Debicki is wickedly smooth as Victoria, a svelte, blond “lethal combination of beauty, brains and ambition” whose soft, seductive purr and pouty smile mask a deadly bite. Veteran British actor Hugh Grant makes a welcome impression as Waverly, a character whose motives become clear later in the film.

But the movie belongs to Cavill and Hammer, who seem to really enjoy playing off each other in two very different roles: Solo, the ultra-cool, unflappable ladies’ man who can steal almost anything, and Kuryakin, a towering Slavic hunk whose twitchy temper makes his bare hands lethal weapons—and who has trouble stealing even a single kiss. Their banter, comic bickering and constant bouts of spy-vs-spy one-upmanship keep the movie moving along crisply.

There are certainly louder, flashier, bigger spy flicks. If you’re dying for Bond, you’ll get your fix in November with Spectre. But for a classy, sassy bit of cool, Kennedy-era espionage hijinks, this new, revived Man From U.N.C.L.E. certainly delivers plenty of fresh, fun spy kicks—and hints at more to come.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Boys’ Town

Big, bloated, bro-fest-ic movie picks up where TV series left off

ENTOURAGE

Entourage

Starring Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara & Jeremy Piven

Directed by Doug Ellin

R

Based on the 2005-2011 HBO TV series about a young actor and his posse of best friends in Hollywood, this feature-film treatment is targeted primarily—and blatantly—to the same kind of hedonistic horn dogs who make up the movie’s base of bro-main characters.

Tinseltown satire, super-rich success fantasy and chauvinistic sex comedy rolled into one, the Entourage movie takes up where the TV series left off—and doesn’t go much anywhere else. A-list movie stud Vince (Adrian Grenier), newly freed from a nine-day whirlwind marriage, is ready to return to work and now wants to direct as well as act. As usual, his longtime nitwit buddies are all-aboard: Eric, his manager and best friend from childhood (Kevin Connolly); Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon), his dim-bulb, struggling-actor half-brother; and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), his driver turned tequila mogul.

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Haley Joel Osment, Emily Ratajkowski & Adrien Grenier

High-strung agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), now running a movie studio, green-lights Vince’s film, a ridiculous, futuristic twist on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which quickly balloons over its $100 budget. The movie’s investor, a rich Texas oilman (Billy Bob Thornton), sends his starstruck son (Hailey Joel Osment) to ride shotgun over the troubled production.

The pencil-thin plot: Will Vince and his crew cash in once again, or will Hollywood finally break the bros?

The Entourage TV show was loosely based, at least originally, on the some of the experiences of actor Mark Wahlberg, who served as executive producer and is now one of the producers of the movie (and has a cameo, with his own tagalong “entourage”). But the movie version plays like such an overblown, oafish wet-dream stream of sexy (often topless) women, caustic one-liners and obscene wealth, it seems adrift in its own alt-universe, like an R-rated, 100-minute Viagra commercial shot inside a VIP strip club operated by light-depraved leprechauns. If you liked Entourage and its freewheeling, high-living characters on TV, you may think they’re even cooler enlarged to cinema-size. Otherwise, you might wonder what anyone ever saw in this pack of boors, mooches, rakes and cads with so few discernable, redeemable skills, talents or virtues or values.

The movie’s attempt at addressing something “deeper”—as Eric confronts his paternity with his pregnant ex-girlfriend (Emmanuelle Chriqui), or Ari seeks peace through spirituality—seems pathetically out of sync with its true, crude flow.

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“Turtle” (Jerry Ferrara) prepares to spar with Ronda Rousey.

To add to the movie’s sense of disorientation from the world in which most people live, an almost endless parade of real actors, sports figures and other personalities breeze through, blurring the lines by interacting with the fictional characters. There’s a lecherous Bob Saget, a grumpy Kelsey Grammer, a ticked-off Jessica Alba, an incredulous Martin Landau, a loopy Gary Busey, plus rapper T.I., director Jon Favreau, actors Liam Neeson and Armie Hammer, comedian Andrew Dice Clay, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Emily Ratajkowski, NFL quarterback Tom Brady, TV personality Piers Morgan, zillionaire Warren Buffett, mixed-martial arts fighting champ Ronda Rousey and many, many more. Blink and you’ll miss someone.

It’s almost like everyone inside Hollywood wanted a piece of the action. The bigger question: How many people outside of Hollywood will want a ticket to this smug, bloated, big-screen, bro-fest-ic boy party?

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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‘Toon Classics

Vintage antics of Bugs, Daffy, Porky and pals & more from the vaults

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Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Vol. 3

Blu-ray $44.98 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

 

Animation connoisseurs and anyone who fondly remember yesteryear’s yuks will appreciate this latest roundup of classic ’toons, all brushed up for the first time up for Blu-ray. In addition to 50 mini-masterpieces featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety & Sylvester, Wile E. Coyote, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam and many more supporting players, the 11-hour, double-disc set also includes a bevy of bonus content, including a booklet and 14 mini-documentaries—I particularly enjoyed “Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices,” and “Drawn For Glory,” a look at how the humble pre-movie “theatrical shorts” went on to become pieces of craftwork worthy of Academy Awards.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Crime Spree

CSI’ had a busy 14th season—now on DVD

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CSI: The Fourteenth Season

DVD $64.99 (Paramount Home Video)

The 2013-2014 season of the long-running CBS crime procedural series featured stars Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue tracking down all kinds of trouble, celebrating their 300th episode with a “flashback” to the beginning, reuniting with a former team member (Marg Helgenberger), saying farewell to another (Paul Guilfoyle), and spinning off a special agent (Patricia Arquette) for her own new upcoming series, CBS: Cyber. Bonus content on this six-disc packaging of all 22 episodes includes cast interviews, commentaries, and spotlights on some of the season’s guest stars (Gene Simmons, Lea Thompson, Jordin Sparks, Robert Davi and Treat Williams).

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Dead Set

TV’s top zombie show 4th-season Blu-ray has tasty bonus tidbits

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The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season

Blu-ray $79.99 / “Tree Walker” Limited Edition $129.99 (Anchor Bay)

Get your gore on with all 16 terror-ific episodes of the award-winning AMC cable-TV series about a post-apocalyptic world dominated by ravenous, flesh-eating zombies, and the human survivors competing to get back on top of the food chain. Bonus features include commentary from actors, producers and makeup supervisors, and several behind-the-scenes featurettes for the faithful. If you’re really a diehard fan, splurge for the Limited Edition, which comes encased in a molded “Tree Walker” zombie for an additional scary-good nightmare or two.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

 

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It’s Miller Time

Will Arnett & JB Smoove star in hit dysfunctional-family sitcom

The Millers: The First Season

DVD $49.99 (CBS Home Entertainment)

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Divorced reporter Nathan Miller (Will Arnett) was looking forward to the single life with his co-worker/wingman (JB Smoove)—until his parents (Margo Martindale and Beau Bridges) totally botched up his plans. One of the hottest, funniest new comedies of last fall’s TV season—which also featured guest appearances from Roseanne Barr, Andy Richter, Jeffrey Tambor, Jerry Van Dyke and others—comes packaged with several bonus features, including a behind-the-scenes look at the production and a mock-serious interview with Arnett.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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‘Sho’ Nuff

Epic ‘80s TV miniseries comes to Blu-ray loaded with bonus features

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Shogun

DVD $85 (CBS Home Entertainment & Paramount Home Media Distribution)

 

Now re-mastered in hi-def and released for the first time on Blu-ray, this award-winning TV three-part mini-series, based on the bestselling James Clavell novel, captivated viewers over five nights in 1980 with the exploits of a 17th century British navigator (Richard Chamberlain) shipwrecked off the coast of Japan and caught up in a deadly, epic struggle of love and war in the land of the rising sun. Almost two hours of bonus features include a 13-part making-of documentary, which detail the intricacies, controversies and complications of filming the entire production in Japan, and commentary by the director.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Small-screen cut-ups

Marx Brothers celebrated in roundup of TV appearances

 The Marx Brothers TV Collection

The Marx Brothers TV Collection

DVD $39.97 (Shout! Factory)

 

Fans of classic television will flip over this roundup of more than 50 performances by the comedic trio of Groucho, Harpo and Chico on dozens of TV shows of the 1950s and ’60s (alongside Jack Benny, Dick Cavett, Dinah Shore, Red Skelton, Perry Como, Jackie Gleason, and many others), plus TV commercials and those-were-the-days episodes of Championship Bridge, Celebrity Golf and Celebrity Billiards, and a 40-page book of rare photos from the Marx Brothers family archive, program notes and an essay by a Marx Brothers historian.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Top Cops

On the Emmy-winning beat with the detectives in ‘Blue’

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NYPD Blue: Season Six

DVD $34.99 (Shout! Factory)

 

One of TV’s groundbreaking “cop” shows of the 1990s, this Emmy-winning network series ran for 12 successful seasons before finally hanging up its badge in 2005. This collection of all 22 season six episodes, available for the first time on DVD, continues the nitty-gritty, true-to-life adventures of New York police detective Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) as he and his precinct partners (Kim Delaney, James McDaniel, Gordon Clapp) welcome a new cast mate, former Silver Spoons star Rick Schroder, in his breakthrough “grownup” TV acting role.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Lights, Action, Wahlbergs

Donnie, Mark, other Wahlbergs star in reality-TV show

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Wahlburgers: The Complete First Season

DVD $19.98 (Lionsgate Home Entertainment)

The A&E reality-TV series about the Wahlbergs, centered around their family-owned restaurant in the Hingham, Mass., shows a domestic, hometown side to the Hollywood lives of actors Mark and Donnie, alongside their cousin Paul and their mom, Alma. Season one episodes includes various eatery escapades and offsite adventures, including visits from Mark’s fiancé, actress Jenny McCarthy, and Joey McIntyre, his former musical mate in the s’80s “boy band” New Kids on the Block.

 

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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